Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gordon Ramsay at The London (West Hollywood, CA) [2]

Gordon Ramsay at The London
1020 N San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Sat 09/17/2011, 06:30p-12:00a

Gordon Ramsay at The London Exterior

I was honestly a bit surprised that Gordon Ramsay at The London managed to survive this long. Set in the space of the hotel's former Franco-Russian dining room, GR quietly debuted in May 2008, but never really caught on, perhaps because Ramsay himself was rarely ever there. Gordo, for his part, doesn't seem to be all that focused on running restaurants at this point, instead being absorbed in starring in his various TV shows and cavorting around with a preggers Posh Spice at Gjelina. Ramsay sightings are on the rise, of course, because the Chef actually moved to LA in March, taking up residence in a $18.8 million mansion in Bel Air, despite his well-publicized and substantial financial woes. Such woes forced Ramsay to sell his stake in the eponymous WeHo restaurant in 2009, though he remains as a consultant and "Chef Patron." More problems followed the fire sale. In February 2010, Andy Cook, the opening Chef, left and returned to London to work at Ramsay's Savoy Grill, leaving the eatery in the hands of Executive CdC Josh Emett and Head Chef Harutaka Kishi. Unfortunately, both Emett and Haru Kishi left earlier this year, so the kitchen is now the charge of Chef de Cuisine Anthony Keene.

About the Chef: Keene is a hotel restaurant kind of guy, having spent 15 years with the Ritz-Carlton chain, including a stint at the company's outpost in Laguna Niguel. He then worked at the Paradise Valley Country Club before taking on the Executive Chef role at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in 2001. 2003 saw the Chef move to the Little Palm Island Resort in the Florida keys, and in 2005, he moved to Casa Marina in Key West. In 2006, Keene packed up and headed to California, landing at Carmel Valley Ranch, where he served as Director of Culinary Operations. That position lasted until 2009, and last year, in the wake of Andy Cook's departure, he relocated to SoCal to become Gordon Ramsay's new Chef de Cuisine.

Gordon Ramsay at The London Front Dining Room
Gordon Ramsay at The London Bar
Gordon Ramsay at The London Rear Dining Room
The interior space (and indeed, the entire hotel's transformation from the Wyndham Bel Age) was overseen by David Collins--a somewhat discordant array of beige, pastels, and gilded shades that border on gaudy. The restaurant features two main dining rooms, flanking a bar/lounge area, seating around 110 guests together (along with five private rooms). As of October 2009, the dining room out front serves double duty as Boxwood Cafe by Gordon Ramsay, a casual eatery that was modeled after the now-defunct original at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, London.

Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Pouring Louis XIII
Louis XIII de Remy Martin Glass of Louis XIII
Oh yes we did. While waiting for our party to gather, we took up residence at the bar and decided to try Remy Martin's Louis XIII cognac for the first time. It's a blend of hundreds, if not thousands of brandies, many over 100 years old, resulting in an intoxicating nose redolent of citrus, spice, caramel, and sherry. Tasting it, I noted similar flavors on the palate, with the spiciness and herbaceous character becoming more apparent, though it was a bit harsher than I would've liked. Overall, a very good cognac, though not quite worth the $300 per 2oz pour. An interesting note: the bottle of Louis XIII on display in the bar is a fake, filled with cola to thwart would-be thieves.

Gordon Ramsay at The London Private Dining Room
Our private dining room out front.

Gordon Ramsay Special Tasting Menu
À la carte is always an option at GRaTLWH, and an eight-course Chef's Tasting Menu is offered at $120 per person, but since we were seating in a private room, we opted for a custom 10-course menu at $140pp. We requested a wine pairing, but disappointingly, we were told that such a thing would not be possible unless the entire table participated. We had a party of 14, so that was never going to happen; we ended up just choosing a few wines by the glass--not a good start to the meal. Click for a larger version.

Mascarpone-Ricotta Mousse with Olive Oil and Truffle Oil
Crisp bits of bread came accompanied by a delectable mascarpone-ricotta mousse laced with olive oil and truffle oil. The earthy essence of the truffle actually worked quite well with the lush, creamy cheese, making for a perfect complement to the crusty baguette.

Bread Basket
The bread, meanwhile, was also much appreciated--crunchy and crusty on the exterior, yet light and fluffy inside. Butter was superb as well.

Mushroom Cappuccino
1: Mushroom Cappuccino
Our first proper course brought us a "cappuccino" of chanterelle mushroom with a milk foam. I rather liked it, finding the heady earthiness of the mushroom hearty and satisfying.

Sea Scallop
2: Sea Scallop | Chorizo and Beet Risotto
A singular scallop arrived deftly cooked, still slightly rare, with a nice sear and tasty salinity. I was a bit concerned about the beet, but it actually wasn't bad here, contributing a subtle sweetness that paired well with the bivalve. My concern was the chorizo, which had rather strong spicy/savory notes that tended to overwhelm the scallop.

Moulard Duck Foie Gras and French Toast
3: Moulard Duck Foie Gras and French Toast | Blueberry Sauce
Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan of overly sweet, fruity foie gras, and unfortunately, this was a good example of that bane. The liver itself was properly seared, but the French toast resulted in a sort of "heavy on heavy" effect here, which was compounded by the overt saccharine flavors of the brandied cherries and smoked vanilla ice cream.

Compressed Summer Melon Salad
4: Compressed Summer Melon Salad | Grilled Kingfish and Cucumber Sorbet
The meal really started to go downhill at this point. Here, the problem was that any semblance of fish was lost. Texturally, the kingfish crudo was there, but it had virtually no flavor. Anything that it did have was drowned out by the pomegranate vinaigrette and various cuts of fruit. This just lacked any sort of punch, and really failed to grab my interest at all.

Veal Sweetbread and Chanterelle Mushroom Tortellini
5: Veal Sweetbread and Chanterelle Mushroom Tortellini | Garlic Custard
I was quite looking forward to this course, but again, I was let down. Sweetbreads usually have a rich, deep flavor, but what I tasted here was insipid: just a bit of the mushroom, and that's it. I looked for salvation in the garlic custard flan; it was far from flavorless, instead verging on being heavy-handed.

Escallop of Wild Salmon
6: Escallop of Wild Salmon | Belgian Endive, Celery Hearts, Soy Vinaigrette
Now we go from bad to worse. Next up was the lowlight of the meal and quite possibly the worst salmon dish that I've ever had. This fish itself was dry, dull, and tasted almost nothing like salmon--none of that brine, that creaminess, that fattiness that I wanted. The soy vinaigrette, meanwhile, I found overwhelmingly sweet, and the combination of endive and celery made for a strange overarching bitterness that was just unsettling. A failure on all fronts really. Of all the fantastic ways to prepare salmon, why the hell would you do something like this? It boggles the mind.

Beef Wellington Overcooked Beef
7: Beef Wellington | Roasted Vegetables and Truffled Green Beans
Almost as disappointing as the salmon was the beef Wellington, which, ironically, is one of the dishes that Gordon Ramsay is best known for. We requested the meat be cooked medium-rare, but as you can see, it was nowhere near that temperature, making for beef that was tough, dry, and flavor-free. Indeed, it's been a while since I've had a piece of beef this horrendously overcooked; I actually sent it back, and I never send things back. One saving grace: the haricots verts were actually quite tasty.

Châteaubriand | Red Onion Marmalade, Mushrooms, Potato Purée
Given the atrociousness of the previous course, our servers brought out plates of filet mignon and a couple bottles of wine to try to redeem the meal (and I give them credit for the effort). This was a competent preparation of beef, and was cooked to a medium-ish temperature. The pairing of mashed potatoes and chanterelles, though, was rather trite, and I did find the onion marmalade a bit too sweet. Nevertheless, an improvement on the Wellington.

Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses
8: Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses
Manchego, a Spanish sheep's milk cheese, arrived to the table along with toasted fruit bread, fig cake, and nuts. The cheese was as it should be: relatively mild, with a slight butteriness and a mild tang. Not bad, merely uninspired.

Carrot Ginger Granite
9: Carrot Ginger Granite
A pre-dessert of carrot and ginger was actually quite effective, delivering a refreshing jolt to the palate. As one of my dining companions stated: "it woke me back up."

10: Millefeuille | Lemon-Blueberry
Our last course, the mille-feuille, managed to be my favorite course of the evening, and not just because nearly everything else was lackluster; this was genuinely delicious. Lemon custard was light and delicate, with a vanilla-tinged essence that worked beautifully in concert with the sugary blueberry compote. At the same time, the pastry added a delightfully ethereal crunchiness to the fray that just tied everything together. At least the Pastry Chef seems to know what (s)he's doing.

Cappuccino Mignardise
To close out the meal: cappuccino and various mignardises (lemon-ginger cookies, madeleines, and lemon and pistachio macarons).

Given my subpar experience here last time, I really wanted this meal to knock it out of the park. Sadly, that hope couldn't have been further from the truth. I previously wrote, somewhat facetiously, that Ramsay should be cautious with this restaurant, lest it turn into a potential subject for his TV show Kitchen Nightmares. That admonishment was prescient, unfortunately, as there were some serious problems here. Many of the dishes were ill-conceived, while others were merely ill-executed; service, meanwhile, had its highs and lows. It's been a while since I've had a dinner fall this flat--lacking in finesse, lacking in refinement, channeling your stereotypical "hotel food." Really, this meal did a disservice to the Gordon Ramsay name, and I hope, for the restaurant's sake, that somebody's going to step in and put an end to this comedy of errors before it's too late. I wouldn't count on Ramsay though; seems like he's already abandoned ship, gallivanting around with David Beckham these days and talking about launching a British pub. I can't believe I'm yearning for the return of Diaghilev.


Anonymous Chris Hei said...

This is just sad. Uninspired food, well-done beef - how did they get a Michelin star to begin with? I feel sorry for you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011 2:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We ate here labor day weekend and were totally underwhelmed - both the food and the service were sorely lacking - baffled how they got a Michelin star - truly nothing better than an upscale hotel restaurant.

Sunday, September 18, 2011 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

Sounds like you and your party stepped into a food horror house......

Sunday, September 18, 2011 4:48:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

We had a bottle of louis XIII at Lazy Ox Canteen last year (one of our guys brought it) and was the only reason that restaurant was even palatable ;D. But definitely not worth the $1k+ price tag and especially at the 300/oz price

Sunday, September 18, 2011 4:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is with the garnish of a single leaf of watercress. Stem up! it's like jordan kahn simplified and awful. Class it up a bit Gordon. (chef in charge is underqualified)

Monday, September 19, 2011 12:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Cinderella11pm said...

Good Monday morning to you Kevin.

The carrot ginger granite and the millefeuille weren't enought to make up for the rest of a sub-par meal - unless you were at afternoon tea somewhere!

Gordon Ramsay ought to close this restaurant down.

Facts are, as a Chef you can't spread yourself so thin.

What matters is what comes out of the kitchen, and your name alone doesn't endear you to customers when sub-par food comes out of the kitchen.

Shame, but it ought to be an obvious lesson to stop someone from being greedy.

I have found the same to be true for Joel Robuchon in London.

You can't clone talent.

Monday, September 19, 2011 9:53:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Horror movie of a meal.
Thank you for going so I never have to go.

Monday, September 19, 2011 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, had a not so good meal here a couple years ago and have not returned. There was a fish bone in my chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), and when brought to the server's attention, it was just swept off under the rug like not a big deal. I expect better from a Gordon Ramsey restaurant. Looks like things have not gotten better!

Monday, September 19, 2011 11:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rarely, you can see in pictures just how good or bad a meal was. The image of that beef wellington is clearly an indication the meat was dry. Saludos from Baja.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 2:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like you needed a wine pairing to get through that meal, although who knows what they would have come up with, considering the food you received!

Did they give a reason as to why the whole party had to participate for a wine pairing? I have never heard of that before.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 3:17:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Chris: Ha! Good question about the star; I've always felt that the rating was questionable.

Anon: "Upscale hotel restaurant" sums things up nicely. The worst part is that it could've much so much more than that--so much potential wasted.

Sam: Still not as scary as dining at Marie Callender's. ;)

Charlie: I actually don't mind Lazy Ox at all! What was so bad about it?

Anon: Ha! I did find it odd to see the garnish show up in three different dishes.

Cinderella: I've actually heard that their afternoon tea is quite good. Concerning Robuchon, I've only had positive experiences at his restaurants, so I think he's doing a lot better in that regard.

Evan: I'm sort of surprised that you haven't been yet!

Anon: At least you got a chawanmushi; I don't think they'd even attempt such a dish now!

Anon: Yep, everyone at the table knew that something was wrong when the beef arrived. What really sucks is that the Wellington was the primary reason we were dining there in the first place.

Anon: Oh I made sure that we had enough wine. ;) I was offered no reason as to why the wine pairing was all-or-nothing. I imagine that it was because the somm didn't want to bother.

Thursday, September 22, 2011 3:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Overley said...

Yeah, if you find yourself spending $140pp and having to find consolation in the green beans, not good.

Thursday, September 22, 2011 5:24:00 PM  
Blogger Will said...

that place has some of the worst interior design I've seen in a long time. god that is horrible lookink.

Friday, September 23, 2011 7:15:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jeff: Ha! Not just the green beans; the dessert was actually really tasty as well, as was the bread.

Will: I'm not a fan either, but I'd be willing to overlook it if the food were great.

Saturday, September 24, 2011 3:38:00 AM  

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